Biotech Manipulation of Genes and Science
23 Sep, 2012
Sporting a white coat and tagged with impressive credentials, Dr. Ronald Kleinman carries an aura of authority on camera as he says, “There are no cancer risks associated with agriculture produced through biotech. None whatsoever.”
The online advertisement featuring the physician-in-chief at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School was rolled out on Tuesday by a campaign opposing California’s Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of genetically modified foods—so-called GMOs.
But on Wednesday, Californians—along with the rest of the world—heard a very different message: A two-year study, led by Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen in France and published in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal, found that a widely grown GMO corn variety raised the rate of cancer and increased the risk of kidney and liver problems in rats.
The new finding fit perfectly with the “Yes on 37″ platform. The campaign has warned that the industry proclaiming GMOs won’t harm human health is the same one that once said DDT and Agent Orange were perfectly safe. But criticisms of the new study quickly emerged, suggesting insufficient sample sizes, a breed of rats prone to tumor growth, and a lead researcher who was seemingly already convinced of the dangers of GMOs. The study authors are now attempting to refute these and other points.
“This study has some significant flaws and needs to be examined by an independent panel before we decide if there’s validity in their findings,” Kleinman told The Huffington Post, adding that he hadn’t changed his mind on the absence of a cancer link. “This is particularly true since there’s a very large body of studies on this topic over a long period of time and this new one is totally inconsistent with what they show and with what’s been observed over the past 10-plus years of use of the product.”
“They’re flooding the state with a 32 million dollar advertisement campaign of deception,” said Stacy Malkan, media director of Yes on 37, which has collected contributions totaling a fraction of that amount.
So, what does this leave the public to believe? Where does the science stand on the safety of GMOs?
It’s not easy to say. And that’s exactly the problem, according to experts. There have been a handful of studies that have hinted at human health concerns, including allergies. And there have been studies, even a recent review of studies evaluating five different genetically modified crops, suggesting there are no concerns. But overall, few studies have looked at the range of potential effects that the introduction of foreign genes may have on a food’s safety.
“Industry says these are the most carefully tested foods ever,” said Charles Benbrook of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University. “But there have been no studies on prenatal effects, on birth defects, on the long-term impact of exposure during fetal development.”
Many GMO critics point to what they see as undue industry influence over what gets studied and published, as well as a regulatory system that they say bends to industry’s wishes. In general, a 90-day animal study is all they need to win approval of a new genetically modified crop. But in Seralini’s study, rats only started developing tumors after four months.